It may sound like science fiction, but self-driving cars are likely to become a reality in the near future. Also known as “autonomous cars,” self-driving cars have already been developed and tested by numerous companies, including Google, Audi, and Mercedes Benz. In 2011, Nevada became the first state to allow driverless cars to operate on its roads.
Reducing Human Error
The idea of a completely self-driving car may sound scary, but statistics show these vehicles are likely to be much safer than cars operated exclusively by human motorists. Moreover, many modern cars already feature components of autonomous systems.
According to Consumer Reports, 90 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by operator error. For this reason, the majority of automakers have focused heavily on developing detection systems that alert drivers to potential hazards. These systems, which are already available in a wide range of vehicles, include backup cameras, lane departure warnings, parking assist systems, and operator override features that take over when a driver makes a dangerous maneuver.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that these systems have already reduced crash rates. Vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning systems have seen a seven percent drop in accident rates. The statistics are even better for cars with automatic braking, which report a 15 percent reduction in crashes.
Unfortunately, not even driverless cars can prevent accidents. “People shouldn’t think that there will never be an accident,” stated Ron Medford, the director of safety for autonomous cars for Google. Medford said driverless vehicles will be safer than cars driven by people, but they will never be accident-free.
As these vehicles become more mainstream, they will also present numerous legal challenges. For example, who is responsible for an accident caused by an autonomous vehicle? Because this is an evolving area of law, it will be interesting to see how technology and the law intersect.